Dela Quist: What the Clinton and Trump Campaigns Teach Us About Deliverability

Dela Quist: What the Clinton and Trump Campaigns Teach Us About Deliverability

It’s been just over a year since EEC 2015 and the panel on deliverability during which some of the largest inbox providers gave the audience some valuable insights into their definitions of engagement and how that relates to inbox placement. For those of you who missed that panel and are new to this debate Massimo Arrigoni wrote a very good summary on the Mail Up blog. What excited me most about the information the inbox providers shared was, for the first time since I got involved in email marketing we had valuable information direct from the horse’s mouth on what mail service providers really look at.

Deliverability is once again in the news, both eDataSource and Return Path have recently warned that delivery rates are falling. Something that I have no doubt will be of concern to many marketers. Both companies have been tracking the performance of emails sent by the various candidates in the 2016 US Presidential election campaign and I was curious to see what impact the various types of engagement behaviour. Open /read rates, frequency, spam complaints or read delete rates would have on inbox placement for the candidates’ campaigns.

Open Rates

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SOURCE: eDataSource

Nothing illustrates the fact that when it comes to inbox placement you should NEVER use open rates as a proxy for engagement more than these charts. Clinton, whose campaigns have Read rates that are some 15% lower than Sanders and less than half that of Trump is way ahead when it comes to inbox placement. In short any time spent thinking about open rates within the context of getting into the inbox is time wasted.

Return Path’s interactive presentation of the data they have collected on the campaign titled Email for President shows a similar pattern. With the exception of the emails sent to the list the largest in the Trump constellation, Clinton lags behind in the open rate stakes but trounces the him on inbox placement. 

Source: Return Path Email for President

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Return Path Email for President

The list is a generic GOP list being used to solicit donations and support for Trump rather than an organic grown Trump list. So the low open rate experienced by the list is a function of poor deliverability rather than the other way round and clearly demonstrates the importance of permission and expectation setting to inbox placement.


When it comes to frequency Clinton is King. Her email team sent out 1,204 campaigns in the 60-day period covered by the eDataSource more than double the number sent by Sanders and 10 times the number sent by Trump. It should be noted that although around 20 campaigns were sent every day this does not mean everyone or indeed anyone on the list got 20 emails in a day. The numbers are most likely due to a high degree of segmentation and targeting - to date I am not aware of anyone getting more than 5 emails in a day.

The most important thing to note about high mailing frequency is not that while it may impact deliverability in the short term, over time inbox placement actually improves as people who are not brand advocates will unsubscribe fairly quickly the list self-cleanses. What is more important is higher mailing frequencies depress open rates, but result in increased engagement over all. So if you conflate open rate with engagement you are likely to come to the conclusion that open rates affect deliverability.

The chart below compiled using data contained within Touchstone (41 billion emails and 675,000 subject lines), a virtual testing platform developed by Alchemy Worx will allow you to benchmark your open rates against your send volumes.

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Delete without opening

This is a newish and still quite shiny metric that tends to get marketing folk all excited – surely I hear you cry, this is proof if you ever needed it that the emails we send are irrelevant. Not necessarily. As you can see Clinton has the highest delete without opening rate and the best inbox placement, so the Return Path data seems to indicate the ISP’s view this behaviour positively - as a weak sign of engagement rather than evidence of disengagement. 

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Source: Return Path Email for President

Spam Complaints

Without doubt this is a metric that everyone believes should be taken seriously with regard to inbox placement and ultimately inbox overload. What this chart shows is quite the opposite. In fact, I would say that the data provides evidence – in this case anyway. that spam complaints have very little if any effect on whether an email gets junked or not.

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Source: Return Path Email for President

Let’s start with Clinton. According to the Return Path data she has the lowest open rates, (because) she has the highest send frequency. These are all apparent indicators of a disengaged, over mailed group of people and yet no one complains and her delivery stats are to die for.

When it comes to Trump things get more and more curious. Astonishingly he gets more complaints from the list that has the best inbox placement and the worst inbox placement from the list he gets the fewest complaints from.

So what does this all mean?

Contrary to popular myth I am neither a deliverability by engagement denier or hater. I embrace it for a very simple reason. It makes marketers lives easier. Deliverability begins and ends with your data! if you or your email partners follow best practice in IP address authentication and reputation management - NEVER send to any list but your own using your IP own address, data collection (opt-in), list management as well as good HTML coding, your open rates and by implication mailing frequency and dare I say it (putting on my flame proof suit as I type this) spam complaint rates will not normally cause you deliverability issues.

Clinton has a great email marketing partners and/or deliverability team. Trump does not. 

Title: What the Clinton and Trump Campaigns teach us about deliverability
About: Email Delivery in Presidential Political Campaigns
Audience: Email Marketers
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